Fringe Focus: Durham Fringe 2024

Durham Fringe Festival runs from July 24th- 28th 2024.

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Durham Fringe is one of the UK’s youngest fringe festivals. “Durham Fringe Festival is a genuinely grassroots initiative. The festival was set up in 2021 by a group of friends, living and working in the North-East, who love Fringe Festivals and had a collective dream to grow a festival in their home city of Durham.”

A search of the 2024 programme reveals 89 listed events, so there is plenty to see across all of the genres. Here are a few of our recommendations. Let’s begin with theatre choices.

Jekyll & Hyde: A One-Woman Show from Sweet productions is a must see. Rated by FringeReview as outstanding at Brighton Fringe in 2021, “Stevenson’s classic science-horror is reborn, with award-winning performer Heather-Rose Andrews in the titular role. Class, terror, and hypocrisy in Victorian London, as the search for self collides with the lure of the sensuous, taking its toll on all around Jekyll & Hyde.” Here you can see some exemplary solo theatre work.

And for another highyl reviewed solo theatre piece, Green Knight from Buxtone Fringe award-winner Debbie Cannon, take us to “Christmas at Camelot: a monstrous green warrior issues an unwinnable challenge to Arthur’s finest knight. But what if the story was retold by the woman at its heart? A one-woman version of the medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”.

For a Shakespeare fix with a differenceat Durham Fringe, you’ll be taken to the year AD793 by Theatre Space North East. “Ousted from their homes, a faithful group Anglo-Saxons take refuge in Arden Forest as a new barbaric Viking regime begins to take root in Northumberland. Meanwhile, Rosalind is banished by new ruler Frederick, whilst Orlando, on hearing of a plot to kill him, also flees to the forest. Cue laughter, love, and confusion as Arden Forest burts into life this summer, in an ‘As You Like’ It unlike any other.” Enjoy this experiment with the Bard in the Palace Green Stretch Tent.

For those who like their theatre to be more physical and movement led, Dora Frankel Ensemble’s Fragments of Poe is billed as “a macabre & quirky night of intrigue, where you can dress the part! Inspired by some of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known tales of gothic romance/horror and framed by the visual aesthetic of queer artist Aubrey Beardsley”. Dancers Giacomo Pini and Livia Massarelli offer us a “great introduction to Poe, Beardsley and dance.”

Indeed, dance is more prominent at this year’s Fringe and you may want to book for Dance Showcase I: Boundless / Acroflex Acrobatic Arts with their ” unique, beautiful fusion of dancing and gymnastics using their own bodies as the apparatus for balance, contortion and dance skills”, and also Dance Showcase II: Talk / Just Enough Madness, described as “a groundbreaking immersive dance performance where art meets technology to invite you into a world where motion creates music and visuals in real-time. Combining contemporary movement and cutting-edge AI, the piece explores the depth of non-verbal communication and human emotion”. If that doesn’t fill you full, then Dance Showcase III: Talk / It’s never enough is also a must book.

Past and Future: Eliot Smith Dance invites us to “experience two distinct and captivating dance works that are filled with passion and commitment.” Watch the show trailer here.

For lovers of Cabaret and Circus, a hit from Brighton Spielgent’s May 2024 programme is Dizney in Drag: Once Upon a Parody. It was a sell out in Brighton. Here’s the lowdown: “Prepare to have all your childhood dreams shattered like Cinderella’s glass slipper. ‘Dizney in Drag: Once Upon a Parody’ is a fantasy-driven, tongue-in-cheek musical comedy that warps the classic “Hero’s Journey” into a modern fairy-tale of self-discovery.” And for something aerial-circussish that is for all the family. take a look at Down the Rabbit Hole for some midday joy.

Also for all the family is another Brighton Spiegetent (and just about everywhere else) hit is The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. It is a multi-award-winner with “amazing tales, elegantly told. Top award-winning improvisers tell extravagant stories all based on the Adventures of Baron Munchausen. There will be pirates and princesses, unicorns and dragons, spacemen and swordfights, and all of it completely and irrefutably true.” And for some edultainment, take the family to interactive The Sound of Science from ATOMS Education. “Imagine this, 3 tired teachers on the last day of term come into work to the news that famous scientist Professor Jones is coming to this mornings assembly and they need to put together a 5 minute celebration performance like no other – the problem is that the kids don’t come in till 9am and the assembly performance is at 9.55am…”

Now, onto magic. There are FIVE magic shows at this year’s Fringe. Acclaimed Lichfield & Larmouth Present: “Wonderstorm” is “a fully-interactive magic show for the whole family with two of the north of England’s most sought after magicians.” Award-winning stand-up comedian and magician Robert Reed promises 18+ comedy and a show that is “hilariously rude, disgustingly dirty, absolutely f*cked up in places and NOT for the faint-hearted or the easily offended” We should also prepared to be amazed, according to the blurb.

Kane & Abel return to Durham Fringe with more comedy and magic based on being twins. Was that a double take you just did? In Magician Twinpossible With Kane & Abel the two brothers “seamlessly move between stand-up comedy magic pieces and theatrical illusions set to music.” A big hit show from the other side of the planet.

Both spoken word shows are recommended here. Where Are You From: A Poetry Performance is performed by Mwelwa Chilekwa is a “hard-hitting and thought provoking spoken word performance that delves into origins, identity and what it means to belong”.

Canny Words is a showcase of three local poets.,”a spoken word celebration of North East working-class culture and community with three local poets” .

Comedy represents a large slice of the cake at most fringe festivals these days and my search yielded 29 results this year. No bad thing necessarily for fringe goers as much comedy covers the genres of comedy theatre, improv, storytelling, clown and physical performance as well as musical comedy and character work.

For gameshow fans, Absolute Monopoly is pretty unique. This is described as a “chaotic, interactive gameshow where audience members compete against each other and the host, with the audience physically becoming the game board”.A hit at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Now, improvised opera- yes you heard correctly. The Improvesarios invite you to “an evening of fun and mayhem as we put down our scores and put our creative prowess to the test. Using your suggestions, we improvise a brand new opera completely on the spot! Help us make beautiful musical moments or laugh along with us as we try to hold it all together. Our fate is in your hands…” For more classic improv comedy, get along to Spontaneous Wrecks, with “very silly improvised games and scenes based entirely on suggestions from you, the audience” Oh, and not to forget comedy masters of Bardish improv, book Impromptu Shakespeare where you can “enjoy a riotous new Shakespeare play every time”

Our stand-up comedy choice takes the form of Chin Wang: Wang’s Republic. Nominated for the BBC New Comedy Award 2022, the show “is all about the oddities of British culture, the illogical language of English, and also a few hazard warnings for any first-generation immigrants from East Asia to the UK.”

For sketch comedy, the legends that are Biscuit Barrel: Not Another 69-Sketch Show, are here in Durham. We’ve seen them in Brighton at Edinburgh. And yes, they perform 69 sketches within an hour. Great fun.

For a “combination of storytelling, stand up comedy and performance”. Marigold Lately ‘Dirty Old Town’ 2024 Tour is a solo show “in an absurdly dark place where characters are not always what they seem dripping venom and tenderness in equal measure”.

So, those are your early choices for the nearly 90 shows at Durham Fringe.. We’ll be adding more picks and previews in the run up to the festival.